Luke 19:11-27 (CEV)
11 The crowd was still listening to Jesus as he was getting close to Jerusalem. Many of them thought that God’s kingdom would soon appear, 12 and Jesus told them this story:
A prince once went to a foreign country to be crowned king and then to return. 13 But before leaving, he called in ten servants and gave each of them some money. He told them, “Use this to earn more money until I get back.”
14 But the people of his country hated him, and they sent messengers to the foreign country to say, “We don’t want this man to be our king.”
15 After the prince had been made king, he returned and called in his servants. He asked them how much they had earned with the money they had been given.
16 The first servant came and said, “Sir, with the money you gave me I have earned ten times as much.”
17 “That’s fine, my good servant!” the king said. “Since you have shown that you can be trusted with a small amount, you will be given ten cities to rule.”
18 The second one came and said, “Sir, with the money you gave me, I have earned five times as much.”
19 The king said, “You will be given five cities.”
20 Another servant came and said, “Sir, here is your money. I kept it safe in a handkerchief. 21 You are a hard man, and I was afraid of you. You take what isn’t yours, and you harvest crops you didn’t plant.”
22 “You worthless servant!” the king told him. “You have condemned yourself by what you have just said. You knew that I am a hard man, taking what isn’t mine and harvesting what I’ve not planted. 23 Why didn’t you put my money in the bank? On my return, I could have had the money together with interest.”
24 Then he said to some other servants standing there, “Take the money away from him and give it to the servant who earned ten times as much.”
25 But they said, “Sir, he already has ten times as much!”
26 The king replied, “Those who have something will be given more. But everything will be taken away from those who don’t have anything. 27 Now bring me the enemies who didn’t want me to be their king. Kill them while I watch!”
What Kind of a Kingdom? What Kind of a King?
So I grew up in the church and know how we’ve always read this section – we’ve made it all about the ‘talents’ and assumed that this was a metaphor for the actual gifts that God has given us, and that it’s a warning to make sure that we invest those gifts well, otherwise God will be mad at us when he returns.
Except that having spent over a year tangled up in the book of Luke, that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing Jesus would say at all!
Not only that, but it completely ignores a bunch of bits to this story that popped out at me strikingly when I read through it over and over again trying to make sense of it all.
The first is that there is this veiled reference to something that actually happened in Jesus’ time. There was an actual prince – named Herod Antipas – who actually went to a foreign king – Tiberius Cesar. And there was actually a delegation of people from Judea – Jews from the Sanhedrin – who went to appeal to Tiberius not to make Herod Antipas their king.
So that was interesting…
The second was this reference to ten servants at the beginning (not the three that we meet later on). There is this sense of a jostling for power and prestige and position – something that happened quite frequently in Herod’s court, and something which often ended badly for people.
Thirdly, there is the final verse, “Now bring me the enemies who didn’t want me to be their king. Kill them while I watch!” Which is completely out of character with anything else that Jesus ever says. Even when he criticises the Pharisees and religious leaders, he gets angry with them and frustrated by the pain that they cause others but he never seems to take delight in the idea of harming them.
However, this kind of behaviour is completely in keeping with the kind of things that Herod does (remember the story of John the Baptist being beheaded for Herod’s birthday?)
So all of that got me thinking.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, along with the crowds of people headed there to celebrate Passover.
Jesus knows he’s on his way to his death, and yet many of the people crowding around him are convinced that he has come to bring a new kingdom into being.
Their definition of a kingdom is maybe just a little different from the one they’re under now, but more importantly, it’s brought into being by the very means used by those currently in power – violence. Obviously they think that a Jewish king will make it all right – that if the Romans are gone and Herod is gone than everything will be better – but Jesus knows that the rules of violence and oppression will only ever lead to one place: more violence and more oppression.
The people’s vision is small – it’s like the posts you see on social media that suggest that all of our problems will be solved if only government ‘X’ was taken out of power and replaced by government ‘Y’.
But I kind of think Jesus is trying to ask a bigger question.
A question about what kind of a kingdom they actually want. A question about what kind of a king they are actually after.
Because this kingdom that Jesus has come to usher in isn’t a political kingdom.
It’s not meant to be about power or prestige or dominance.
If you are looking for a fast track for your favourite policies, a seat at the decision-making table on Parliament Hill or funding for your pet project, you’ve come to the wrong spot.
This kingdom that Jesus has come to offer is subtle and subversive. It takes the poor and the powerless and uses them to bring shalom and healing and wholeness to the world.
It raises up dead girls and bleeding women, mistresses and adulteresses, lepers and paralytics and blind men and people haunted by so many demons they can’t see clearly and even tax collectors and it fills them with so much love and awe and wonder at this kingdom way of living that they can’t help but pour it out to those around them, until the whole world knows about it.
The temptation to equate the Kingdom of Heaven with a political kingdom here on earth hasn’t gone anywhere – even if it looks a little different in a democracy than it did back in the Roman Empire – which means that the questions Jesus implicitly proposes remains for us today. What kind of a kingdom are you after? What kind of a king do you want?
Interesting that this would be the last story Luke records before the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday…Journal Questions:
- Take some time today to flip back through the studies of the last few months – they’re all over on www.voxalliance.ca/devotional/
- What kind of a kingdom do you think Jesus is inviting us into?
- What kind of a king is he?
- How does that challenge the way in which we engage in politics?
- How does that challenge the way in which we view power?
- How does it change the way in which we view this Kingdom we are being offered by Jesus?
- If you can only choose one Kingdom, which one will you choose?